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Disappearing Winemakers

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Posted: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 10:32 am | Updated: 11:25 am, Tue Mar 29, 2011.

There will be a dearth of winemakers in Lodi this week, due to the intense magnetic pull of new gadgets at the 17th Annual Unified Wine & Grape Symposium.

Held Tuesday through Friday at the Sacramento Convention Center and Hyatt Regency, just about everyone that is anyone in the world of wine will be there.

Winemakers with credit cards burning holes in their wallets along with cellar and vineyard managers roam the aisles of a huge showroom floor packed with full-sized mechanical harvesters, presses, barrels, tanks, label designers, and just about anything else you can think of.

Some take the time to plot out exactly what booths they will visit, on a mission to find a new automated wine analyzer, for example, that will spit out pH and sulfur readings from a drop of wine, saving bunches of time being cooped up in a lab.

Others are playing with new machines that generate frequently-used pressurized Nitrogen gas, or maybe they're poking at the latest iPhone app that lets you keep an eye on the temperature of your tanks full of wine, even when out to lunch at School Street Bistro.

But besides all the stainless steel, the biggest attraction is the ability to literally bump into friends that haven't been seen in the year since the last Symposium. All that scuttlebutt can be even more valuable than the next new barrel washer. Plus, there is a definite thrill getting to meet high-scoring celebrity winemakers that we've only read about in magazines.

I don't know if the scheduling is Superbowl influenced or what, but for some masochistic reason, most of these winemakers whose throats have been reamed by a couple of days of talking over the crowd, grab a few cases of wine, flyers and all their booth decorations and immediately lug them down to San Francisco for ZAP.

ZAP is short for Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, who are holding their 20th Annual ZAP Zinfandel Festival, starting this Thursday night with "Good Eats and Zinfandel Pairing" from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Fort Mason Center. That night Lodi's Gnarly Head Cellars, Klinker Brick, m2, Macchia, McCay, St.Amant, and 45 others will pair their Zins with select dishes from restaurants and gourmet food providers for $140 per person.

The next day features an already sold-out tasting through select Zins called "Flights!" and a $225 per person "Evening with the Winemakers" benefit live auction and dinner at the Westin St. Francis.

But the main event happens this Saturday, January 29th from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. when Zin fanatics from across the country come out of the woodwork to stuff 2 piers at Fort Mason like a 1950's telephone booth. The "Grand Zinfandel Tasting" has been described as the largest celebration of a single grape variety in the world, and that's not an overstatement.

204 wine brands will be pouring only Zinfandel or Zin field blends, with booths arranged alphabetically. The Lodi contingent will be represented by 17 brands, from local favorites including Delicato, Fields Family, Harney Lane, Klinker Brick, LangeTwins, m2, Macchia, McCay, Michael-David, Spenker, St.Amant, Lucas, and Van Ruiten.

For wineries, the real attraction of the show is making deals with restaurants or wine shops looking to discover new wines at the right price an hour before the gates release 10,000 of the general public.

Despite the herd of wall-to-wall Zin fanatics, you won't find a better collection in one place of almost every Zin currently produced. It is an excellent opportunity to grab a baguette and red plastic beer cup (because you'll absolutely need to be spitting) and see how Lodi's big fruit style stacks up against Napa, Sonoma, the Sierra Foothills and Paso Robles.

Tickets for the Grand Tasting are $70 each at www.zinfandel.org.

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